The “Great” Final Exam

final exam

Final Exam Study Guide

[note: the exam will be cumulative.  If you attended class regularly, took notes, actively engaged in blogging, and completed the required the reading, you should be able to do well on the exam given, of course, some additional studying / refreshing]

The exam will be held on Monday, May 4 from 8-11 in the the same location as our regular class

FINAL EXAM = 30% of your grade, or 300 points


(1) Text IDs—10 total @ 5 points each = 50 points (take ~10 minutes).  Identify the novel and author from which each excerpt is taken

(2) Slightly Expanded Text IDs—5 total @ 10 points each = 50 points (take ~25 minutes).  Expand five of the text IDs above, noting the character who speaks it / thinks it / focalizes it (if it is objectively narrated, you can just note that it is the objective narrator’s voice) and write 4-5 sentences about that excerpt’s significance to the novel’s broader themes and/or formal qualities and  its context within the novel. I won’t go out of my way to fool you. The excerpts will be prominent, and will have been discussed in some ways in class.

(3) Short Answer (2-3 paragraphs)—4 total @ 25 points each = 100 points (take ~ 60 minutes).  You will have some choice in the matter, selecting 4 from 7 choices. The following are just examples of the kinds of questions you might encounter.

  • Fully Expanded Text IDS: select another (sixth) except and expand on its context / significance in 2-3 paragraphs.
  • Questions that drill down on particular novels related to themes discussed in class: Dos Passos’s 42nd Parallel, written in the wake of the execution of Sacco and Venzetti in 1927, constituted a complex response both to the revolutionary potential and to the threatened demise of what might be broadly referred to as the “anticapitalist left” during the first quarter of the 20th century. Dos Passos used four distinct formal strategies throughout the novel to convey his response. First, name each formal strategy. Then, focusing on a single strategy, discuss how it either successfully critiques a country—and world—driven by “specialmoneyed” interests, or, alternately, how it reflects an inability to respond adequately to the forces of alienation and industrialization (or somewhere in between).
  • Likely question about narrative form (emphasis on narration / narrative technique)
  • Likely question on identity (racial, sexual, class-based, etc.).
  • Broader questions that ask you to discuss a shared theme (how mental illness / disability is used in any two novels); how “passing” becomes a broader trope in the novels that we deal with as characters negotiate identity; etc.

(3) Longer Answer (4-5 paragraphs)—2 total @ 50 points each = 100 points (take ~60 minutes).  These questions, though you will compose the response during our final, are available below:

  • The tradition of the Great American Novel has quietly attended our class, and I feel that this final exam offers a great opportunity to bring it front and center. In its simplest form, as Lawrence Buell argues, the GAN tradition persists “most obviously and fundamentally, to affirm a memorable reading experience.” While this sense of simply loving a given book is where your allegiance might begin, this question asks you to signal an awareness of the broader GAN tradition. In your response, please begin by providing an overview of the Great American Novel debate as it is presented in Buell’s article (“The Unkillable Dream”). Specifically, please note when the Great American Novel debate originated, who first presented it, how the criteria for what makes a GAN changed since it was first proposed, and what the standard “recipes” for a GAN are. Having offered this broad overview, please proceed to make the case for one of the novel’s we’ve read in class based on the standard criteria, based on criteria of your own, or based on some mix of standard and personal criteria.
  • Modern fiction is known for harboring, even amidst marked disillusion, some embedded hope for something like recovery, redemption, or truth. To paraphrase the great art critic T.J. Clark, modernism is remarkable not so much for the solutions it offered, but simply for the fact that solutions were still the name of the game. We see this drive in many of the books we’ve read: in Selden’s “Republic of the Spirit”; in Jim Burden’s dream of the regenerative powers of memory; in Gatsby’s drive, against all odds, to re-invent the past; In Dos Passos’s all encompassing drive to capture the “speech of the people” cast in his massive trilogy that might capture all of the U.S.A; in the invisible man’s final desire to find some socially responsible role that will lead him out of alienating enlightenment into some true relation to the world; and in David’s ambiguous release from a hetero-normative American future as he continues his travels even as his lover meets his fate. It’s a stretch, but we might even see it in the religious resonance that pierces through Miss Lonelyhearts, still capturing some semblance of lost order even if it is one the narrator inhabits imperfectly, or in Faulkner’s investment in the epic journey, no matter how degrading it had become, or in the way Vonnegut wrestles at least the powers of the written word from the flames of nihilism.That said, such “solutions” are often highly problematic in the context of their respective novels, and in relation to the broader context that surrounds the novel. Please select two novels that you think animate this conversation about modernism and its (possible) redemptive values in interesting ways and make a case for their relative import.

Cheat Sheet: You will be permitted to bring a single-side page of quotes, info, and outlines to help you incorporate excerpts from the texts under consideration. I ask that you hand this paper in with your exam.  I encourage you to think in advance about your responses to the longer answer questions, familiarize yourself with the texts you want to address, and come up with a general organizational strategy / outline.  All I ask is that you compose the essay itself during the exam itself. I will provide paper. You can put anything you want on this piece of paper.


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